Willy-nilly

“Willy-nilly” – in a haphazard or spontaneous manner  ~ The Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Iris reticulata 'Harmony'

Iris reticulata ‘Harmony’

Yesterday, the warmth and sunshine of a beautiful April day lingered into evening, a perfect time to work in the garden. I had an agenda, a list – prune the roses, rake the leaves, pull the weeds. I pruned the blackened branches of roses that were damaged by a harsh winter and was delighted to discover green growth at the roots. That was as far down the list as I got. I paused to smell the wind carrying the scent of spring, I watched a pair of robins argue over territory, and my feet wandered over the paths drawn to bits of green and blue and yellow arising from the ground.

Rose hellebore

Rose hellebore

The “to do” list was forgotten and I moved willy-nilly through the garden, meandering, clipping here and there as I went, without plan or order. At work, I am the planner, the doer, the architect of outcomes. But on entering the garden, the plan became a burden that I happily surrendered. I shilly-shallied through a garden lit by golden evening light, my ears open to bird song while my fingers stroked the tender new leaves emerging from the earth. I began to dream instead of plan, I began to imagine instead of control, I began to be instead of act.

Daffodil 'Verdant Meadow'

Daffodil ‘Verdant Meadow’

After a few hours of meandering with snippers in hand, caught up in the magic of a gentle spring evening, I discovered that my hands had pruned the hydrangeas, weeded the garden beds and cleared last year’s leaves from the stone steps. The garden was clear of debris and ready to grow. My orderly list of chores was somehow accomplished as part of a relaxed ramble, an afterthought to the real business of connecting with the magical world around me. Perhaps I need a little more willy-nilly time and allow myself to be a dreamer and a sillyheart more often.

“I don’t think I want to know a six-year-old who isn’t a dreamer, or a sillyheart.” ~ Uncle Buck

All Things Being Equal

hellebore budsYesterday, we reached the equinox where night and day are equal in length. The official start of the spring season in the northern hemisphere, the day was cold and windy, winter lingering in reality in spite of the calendar and the turning of the world. Yet, the birds knew it had begun. The sound of morning outside my door has evolved from the spare songs of winter, lonely calls punctuating the silence of a sleeping world to the bubbling  orchestra of songs and calls that greeted me this morning when I stepped outside. More than anything else, the sounds of returning birds signals the massive change about to occur in the natural world.

The sound of morning birdsong in January. 


The sound of morning birdsong in late March. 


snowdropsThe snowdrops began blooming last week and the hellebores are starting to show their flower buds (see above).  Yes,the garden is beginning to emerge but bloom will be about two weeks later than normal, or at least what has become normal in our changing climate. I’ve already pruned most of the shrubs and trees and began raking the leaves scattered and mounded by winter winds. For me, the garden season has begun, another year of beauty and adventure. Regardless of the weather, I long to spend every moment outside, a witness and participant as the world comes to life. But for now, March is demonstrating its unsteady temperament; this morning’s sunshine has been replaced by a wintery snowfall. March snow

Interested in seeing what the world looked like on the day of the spring equinox? See the photo from space at space.com and learn more about the phenomenon of the vernal equinox. Think spring!

Footprints

Remember sixteen – when all the world was new and a lifetime stretched before you like fresh snow just waiting for your footprints? ~ Peggy Toney Horton

dogprintsI haven’t been leaving many footprints here lately. Life took a decidedly inward turn in December as I began to treasure the last few weeks of my sabbatical, reluctant to share the quiet and solitary days left to me before I returned to the whirlwind of another semester. Punctuated only by a happy crowd of family and friends on Christmas Day, I spent those days reading, thinking, writing and walking and sometimes snuggled up to the fireplace with Angel in my lap. (She may be large but she considers herself a lap dog!)

Snow has been plentiful this winter, nature sharing her winter mulch in a generous way. And so I have been able to track the rabbit that sneaks through the fence into my garden to chew on the rose bushes, leaving my own steps behind. Angel tracks the rabbit’s movements with great interest but we never catch a glimpse of it, only the traces of its path in the snow. I have been feeling like that rabbit lately, making quiet visits to favorite blogs but rarely leaving a footprint. It was a bit of a shock to return to work after seven months of quietly pursuing my own path, but I have found my inner and outer balance again and suddenly find that I want to leave a few more footprints in my wake. A special thanks to those of you who stopped by here to say hello while I was on vacation.

A few footprints in my life. (All images © Lynn Emberg Purse, 2014)

A musical version of Footprints, with composer and saxophonist Wayne Shorter performing live with Esperanza Spalding on the Tavis Smiley Show. Enjoy!

“I think that’s what we all want, in the end. To know that we left footprints when we passed by, however briefly. We want to be remembered.” ~ Mike E. Lancaster

88 Swans

My swan, let us fly to that land
Where your Beloved lives forever.
That land is always soaked in moonlight;
Darkness can never come near it. ~Kabir

Beechwood Farm signYesterday, I attended a training session for the upcoming Christmas Bird Count sponsored by the National Audubon Society.  I’ve been to Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve, headquarters of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, several times this fall to photograph birds and familiarize myself with the walking trails. Fall and winter are great times to film birds as they are more visible in the bare trees and underbrush. After ninety minutes of classroom training, we set out on the trails to practice identification techniques. Although the air was cold, the sky was a brilliant clear blue studded with a few white clouds and a light coating of snow that reflected the morning light and outlined every tree and branch.

tundra swansAt the end of a delightful walk on which we observed juncos, cardinals, mourning doves, chickadees and a pair of red-tailed hawks, someone spotted a full V of flying swans high in the sky. We had seen a smaller group pass over earlier in a single line but this second group was huge.  True to our training, our guide Gabby studied the birds with binoculars and compared their calls to the bird calls on her Audubon phone app, confirming that they were tundra swans. I later counted 88 swans in the photo of this flying V – a magnificent sight!

Here are a few images of our walk around the lake at Beechwood and a short video from my cell phone of the swans in flight. Enjoy! (All photographs ©2013 Lynn Emberg Purse, All Rights Reserved.)

Here’s a link to the sound of the tundra swan from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. They have a higher pitched voice than the Canadian goose, with less of a low honk.

Penn’s Woods: Autumn Equinox

If you look deep enough you will see music; the heart of nature being everywhere music. ~Thomas Carlyle

A few days ago, I made a presentation at a national music conference on my “A Year in Penn’s Woods” project. Having to encapsulate my work in 25 minutes pushed me to review what I’ve done so far, create a succinct presentation of my project, and produce a short video demonstrating some of my musical and visual ideas.

Wetland habitat, western Pennsylvania

Wetland habitat, western Pennsylvania

Pressure can be useful for inner clarification; working on the presentation led me to review the hours of audio and video recorded so far, assess the quality of the work, and decide on technical and artistic refinements to the process. I originally expected this project to be completed in a year’s time, but have found that to be unrealistic. I’ve added another year to the timeline, but what I now realize is that I love doing this work and in actuality, I may be pursuing this project for many years to come. There is great joy in being in nature, listening to the sounds, seeing the beauty, and feeling deeply connected to the world around me. I’ve coined the music I am attempting to compose as “eco fusion” – the integration of the soundscape of the natural world with composed music.

Here is my first experiment in combining the sound of birds, insects, frogs, and other denizens of the western Pennsylvania habitats with visuals filmed during this year’s autumn equinox. The soundtrack music is designed to support and enhance nature’s orchestra without overwhelming it. While the musical pieces in “The Year in Penn’s Woods” project will vary from orchestral to small ensembles to electronic soundtracks, ultimately my goal is to be an interpreter of what I see and hear in nature, rather than to merely illustrate it. As I emphasized in my conference presentation, I want to join this band! I want to write for this orchestra! This is a first step. Enjoy! (Click on the video to play, or click on the Vimeo link to watch in full HD)  If you have a problem viewing the Vimeo version, here is a link to a smaller mobile device friendly version on YouTube.

All text, music and video ©2013 Lynn Emberg Purse, All Rights Reserved

Read more about the genesis of this project in Wild Sounds.

No spring, nor summer beauty hath such grace,
As I have seen in one autumnal face. ~John Donne

A special thanks to Joan for pointing out that it is the autumn equinox rather than the autumn solstice.